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Updated: Aug 28, 2023

This article was written for

Copyright © Peter Sissons 2023

It is one of those rare balmy and tranquil summer evenings in the area north of Oxford, little known to Oxonians as Parktown.

The reddening sun that has warmed everyone's cockles all day is gradually bowing out between the tall Victorian red-brick houses, casting long shadows along the street. I stroll happily towards my destination down one of the narrowest shopping streets in the city – North Parade Avenue – found hiding off Banbury Road.

North Parade Avenue oxford
North Parade Avenue

Bearing left at the veterinary surgery, I am aware of the faint velvety tones of a saxophone filling my ears. The music grows in volume as I pass a small local store that manages to sell everything one might need in a culinary or cleaning emergency. My mind strays into imagining the ghost of yesterday's bustling market, which always fills the narrow street with colourful stalls, food from all over the world and enthusiastic shoppers.

Several sizable vehicles manoeuvre tentatively past the few parked cars next to me, their wing mirrors seemingly praying to remain in place and not be knocked off.

I cross the road and arrive at the unmistakable sound of jazz coming out of the open door of the Rose and Crown.

The Rose and Crown
The Rose and Crown

The Rose is a proper old English pub – a rare beast in this world of updated and remodelled public houses and has run as an intrinsically British Oxford public house for over thirty years by welcoming and enthusiastic owners - full of character landlord Andrew - a wonderful personality, and Debbie, his loveable wife, who keeps him under control and, of course, runs the pub.

From the fading pink sunlight bathing the narrow street, I enter the pub's small entrance corridor's more low-lit and hubbub-laden atmosphere. I turn sideways and back and forth to avoid pints of beer eagerly drunk by Sunday jazz regulars chatting along my route.

I hear the band begin playing another song – one from the unmistakable Count Basie – the music emanating from the awning- and vine-covered courtyard. I see through the door leading to it, noting that the space is packed with jazz aficionados. Before I join my friends, I prioritise heading for the bar for some Rose and Crown fare and sample one of their excellent beers.

courtyard jazz
The usual packed courtyard seating

Without fail, I notice the decorations of a bygone age, the eclectic array of paraphernalia hung like trophies on the uneven walls.

I arrive at the small bar, jammed with beer pumps, enticing golden-brown pork pies, shelves

piano music bar pub
The Rose and Crown's Honky-Tonk piano

of spirits and a plethora of other odds and ends. Greeting the cheery servers behind the counter, I order a beer and a steak-and-ale pie – a culinary delight cooked to perfection with delicious blue cheese.

For the next twenty minutes, I savoured tasty food and chatted with some of the well-travelled foreign visitors to the Rose. This time my conversations visit hot and humid South Carolina and the red-tiled roofs of the villages of Provence, with these atmospheric places accompanied by the gorgeous jazz of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the dark and sensual sounds of Nina Simone.

I exit the bar and enter the festive and bunting-adorned courtyard. I negotiate my way around the drinkers who cannot find a seat. Passing the musicians, I see Tim the drummer enjoying the scintillating chemistry between him and the other band members.

I settle down and spend the rest of the evening in an array of sparkling conversations with fascinating people and superb jazz.

When Andrew eventually stops dancing and calls 'Time!' I hear my friends announce, 'Right, everyone. Off to the Harcourt Arms!' Another unmolested Oxford pub with oodles of atmosphere.

Cheers, everyone! See you at The Rose.

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